Arrival in Vietnam

The general background for this series of entries is that somewhere in the late spring I was approached by a friend, who shall heretofore be referred as M., with an offer to join her in Vietnam for the duration of the winter. Her company intended to send her over to Ho Chi Minh City (the City Formerly Known As Saigon) for a few months and maybe I’d care to join her and her friend, Z.?

Hell yes I would, it’s sunshine and warmth instead of darkness and cold. So I’ve found a flatmate to cater to my cats’ whims for the period I would be gone and awaited news on when we would go.

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy and the planned 4 months underwent sudden attrition to one and a half, leaving on 17th of December and returning, provisionally, on the 30th of January.

Still, I’ve packed my bags: laptop, waterproof smartphone, HD camera with a diving enclosure, rooted e-ink reader with Android, assorted cables and power supplies, sunscreen and DEET. Also, some clothes and melatonin pills for jetlag.

We booked a flight with Vietnam Airlines, from Frankfurt, with a connecting LOT flight from Warsaw Okęcie. Our connecting flight was scheduled to leave at 6 in the morning, so I’ve decided not to go to sleep at all, in order to be tired and sleep in the plane, to facilitate adjustment to the new time zone.

Ten hours in a plane, even in deluxe economy class, with slightly more space for legs were not exactly fun, but the service was good and for in-flight entertainment we had an earphone splitter and M’s earphones had a socket for daisy-chaining, so we managed to watch Page Eight on my laptop. It’s quite a nice spy movie and I recommend it to anyone who likes the genre. I even managed to get some sleep, which is recommended on eastbound flights to minimise jetlag (with a 6 hours time zone change it is difficult to avoid jetlag altogether). We’ve finally arrived at 8 AM, local time (2 AM in Poland).

Saigon from the air

Saigon from the air

When the plane was taxiing from the runway the first things I’ve noticed were Mi-8 helicopters and prefabricated concrete walls which look exactly like the ones around old communist structures in Poland. I guess the design in both cases came from the same place.

Buying a visa took us over half an hour, because the immigration officers were obviously not in a hurry, and as a matter of of fact waiting for the visas made me think fondly of the Polish Post Office. Nobody looked through our luggage, which was probably a good thing, since the melatonin pills I bought (small, nondescript white pills) came in a giant plastic container which was mostly empty, so I transferred them to a small plastic baggie. In retrospect, that might not be the smartest move, I decided while waiting at the customs.

At the airport, we were greeted by sunshine and palms! Sunshine! And palms! Adding some more exclamation points would even better reflect my mood at the moment – it was warm and sunny, and it was December! I was grinning like a slightly sleep-deprived madman.

Warmth, palms and sun

Warmth, palms and sun

I should have done this a long time ago, I’ve decided.

We were met by two girls from the local branch of the company M. works at, Mio and Nat, and they drove us (well, a taxi driver drove us) to our apartment in the 7th district of HCMC, which was like half an hour drive. There were swarms of scooters flocking on the streets, and communist propaganda posters everywhere, but also markets, boutiques, KFC and McDonalds, and of course, billboards and advertisements were everywhere. Poland is marred by an exceedingly large amount of billboards and outdoor advertising, but in comparison to Vietnam, we’re toned down and stately.

In .vn, scooters flock

In .vn, scooters flock

Propaganda banners are everywhere

Propaganda banners are everywhere

Our apartment at the 5th floor turned out to be more like on the 10th floor, since all apartments in the block are two story high. There was, of course, no elevator. Walking up the stairs is healthy. There was wifi in our apartment, although with time, it turned out that the connection is… slightly buggy at times.

And it turned out the air conditioning unit in my room does not work. Which I completely didn’t mind. Some remarks were made concerning my lizard heritage, but I ignored them as the low-brow comments they were. It was warm! Thirty degrees and sunny – I was in heaven.

So we went out to eat some phood. I mean, food. Pho24 is the local more or less fast-food chains which serves pho soup and it was excellent. And the complimentary desserts were also quite nice, which, as it turned out later, we should not have taken for granted.

Oh, and we all went to sleep somewhere past noon. Just to catch a nap, you understand.

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